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Northfield growth restriction could buy time to finish master plan

Recorder file photo/Paul Franz
The Northfield Food Mart in downtown Northfield.

Recorder file photo/Paul Franz The Northfield Food Mart in downtown Northfield.

NORTHFIELD — A proposed bylaw would limit new construction while the town continues to craft its master plan.

If a one-year building moratorium is approved at the May annual town meeting, it would allow only six permits for new dwellings annually, with no more than two per applicant. Those dwellings may be separate single-family houses, a duplex, or a new single-family home with an in-law apartment.

The Northfield Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed bylaw at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall. The proposal could change before the annual town meeting, depending on what residents have to say about it.

The growth restriction is billed as a way to keep construction under control until the town’s master plan is complete. The plan will detail a vision for the future of Northfield, and a plan for how to get there, including recommendations for zoning and other regulations.

Though development in town is stagnant at the moment, that could change before the master plan takes effect, especially if a new owner is named for the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus.

“The purpose of the proposal is not to shut down residential growth in the town, but to reasonably and temporarily limit new growth while the master plan work collects information on town resources and services as well as what the town wants for the future,” explained Richard Fitzgerald, Planning Board chairman.

With the fate of the 217-acre campus still uncertain, many residents have expressed concerns that a new owner could bring with it an influx of new residential construction.

The National Christian Foundation took over the property in January, and continues to seek a new owner for the campus. Previous owners, the billionaire Green family of Oklahoma, sought a Christian group, preferably involved in higher education, to give the property to. However, since Arizona’s Grand Canyon University refused the free campus in October, the Greens donated the campus to the NCF, who may give the campus away, or sell it and donate the proceeds to charity.

GCU had planned to expand the former 500-student prep school to accommodate 5,000 college students, and many residents worried that their little town of 3,000 would be rendered unrecognizable by residential and commercial development that may be attracted by such a large institution.

The proposed bylaw would not apply to reconstruction, and would exempt renovations unless the work involves the addition of a dwelling unit.

If approved, the moratorium would expire June 30, 2014. Before that, the Planning Board could decide whether to propose that the bylaw be extended for a year, present a proposal for an updated phased growth bylaw based on master plan recommendations, or let the restriction expire.

If the board decided to update or extend the bylaw, it would have to be approved by the 2014 annual town meeting.

Those who wish to comment on the proposal, but can’t make it to the meeting, may write to the Planning Board, at 69 Main St., Northfield, MA, 01360.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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